Unordered List

Tuesday 11 November 2014

READ THIS BOOK: A Hero at the End of the World

This is a bit of a departure from my usual topics, but today marks the publishing date of one of THE MOST EXCITING BOOKS of my entire life. It's called A Hero at the End of the World and it's written by Erin Claiborne -- a very talented author who has been writing fanfic for years, and is now branching out into original fiction for the first time. This book is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny, a kind of Douglas Adams-esque satire on young adult fantasy tropes: A story about a Chosen One character who fails to live up to expectations.

A Hero at the End of the World is published by Big Bang Press, a small press I helped launch last year. It's specifically dedicated to publishing original novels by fanfic writers, and Hero is the first. And it's getting SUCH GOOD REVIEWS, I'm so excited! Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred recommendation (which is notoriously unusual for a debut novel), and the Book Smugglers (a popular YA/fantasy book review blog) rated it "Excellent." Here's the plot summary:
"According to prophecy, 17-year-old Ewan Mao is destined to kill the evil tyrant who has been terrorizing Britain for as long as he can remember. But when Ewan chickens out and his best friend Oliver Abrams defeats the villain instead, Ewan’s bright future crumbles before his eyes. 
Five years later, Ewan is living at home and working in a coffee shop while Oliver has a job in the government’s Serious Magical Crimes Agency. They haven’t spoken since they were teenagers, but a routine investigation leads Oliver and his partner, Sophie Stewart, to uncover a powerful cult… one that has drawn Ewan into a plot to end the world."

One of the best things about Big Bang Press is the amount of freedom we have. A Hero at the End of the World is a mainstream teen fantasy novel with a diverse cast including queer characters and people of colour in the lead roles. It's written by an author who is proud of her background as a fanfic writer, and published by people who love fandom and want to promote the work of creators who come from the fanfic and fanart communities. (And did I mention that this book was illustrated by fanartist Jade Liebes? Her art is amazing!)

I hope some of you guys decide to check this book out! Erin is a great writer, and we've put a lot of hard work into making this the best book it can be. For more info, please check out the Big Bang Press website, Tumblr or Twitter accounts! Or you can just can order a copy in paperback or ebook format right now. :D

Sunday 9 November 2014

Interstellar, costume design, and the difficulties of "realistic" visual worldbuilding.

Interstellar is one of those movies where the costume design is almost invisible, which is part of what makes it so interesting. The simplest explanation is that the visual style is purposefully "realistic" and avoids any kind of futurism... which in itself is unrealistic. A conundrum, right? Technically, it doesn't make sense for people 50-100 years in the future to wear the same clothes as people in 2014. But from the perspective of a filmmaker who wants his apocalyptic sci-fi film to be taken seriously, this aesthetic decision makes perfect sense.

The earthbound setting of Interstellar is a classic American fantasy: a manly farmer hero, raising his kids in a bleak, rural landscape. Despite the film's image as a deep and thoughtful space epic, it still relies on the familiar old Hollywood scenario of a messianic white American dude being the one person who can save mankind. (And yes, I know his daughter does the actual saving, but this is very much a film about Cooper, not Murphy.) Underdog heroes NASA and Matthew McConaughey save humanity while the rest of the world is apparently helpless. Politically and socially, this is a tired old trope, but it aligns well with the kind of generic hero that can be inserted into a complex movie with minimal exposition. Cooper is the kind of guy who, for better or worse, is perceived as "universal." Luckily, McConaughey's performance was brilliant.

So here we have Coop and his kids, looking both relatable and realistic in their jeans and hoodies. This is the difference between a meticulously researched film that is actually realistic, and a film whose worldbuilding gives the appearance of realism, and therefore does not jolt viewers out of their comfort zone. On the whole, the appearance of realism tends to be the better choice. We're watching fiction, after all.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Constantine: "The Darkness Beneath"

Previously: Constantine, "Non Est Asylum"

If you're still on the fence about watching this week's Constantine, here's a line that tells you everything you need to know: "There's nothing blacker than gypsy magic."

Yes, this episode hinged on the kind of racist stereotype that I'm surprised is even allowed on TV in 2014. Friends, this was not a pleasant hour of television.
In order to introduce the new female lead Zed, episode 2 saw Constantine visit a Pennsylvania mining town without his regular (and so far pointless) sidekick Chas. This town had a problem with vengeful spirits killing off local miners, and because Constantine is indistinguishable from Supernatural, our hero traveled across America to solve their problem by interrogating a bunch of angry men and befriending a sexy yet mysterious lady. That's Zed, by the way. We still don't know much about her except that she was probably described as "tempestuous" in the casting call.

The victim in the pre-credits scene was a mean drunk husband who burned to death in the shower. After various unimaginative demonic shenanigans, we learn that his wife is the one who brought the mine monsters into town, and Constantine's solution is to... bring her (implicitly) abusive husband back to drag her down to Hell. Oh, and she's a "Romani girl," hence the godawful "gypsy magic" line I quoted above. To make matters worse, this tired old stereotype was completely unnecessary to the situation at hand, and could've been removed without making any difference to the plot.
The most frustrating thing with this episode was how easily they could've made it better. It was written by the creator of Farscape, a delightfully weird show with its fair share of interesting female characters. But this episode wasn't just poorly written, it was a paint-by-numbers example of generic supernatural/mystery TV. What makes this all the more baffling is that it's adapted from a comic that actually does have some personality, and both of the showrunners are supposedly Hellblazer fans. I'm yet to see much evidence that anyone in this show has gone beyond reading the Hellblazer Wikipedia page, though.